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By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - Week two of the 2012 NFL Preseason is in the books and the Minnesota Vikings are on the board with their first victory, however unofficial it may be. Defeating the Bills by a score of 36-14 was a secondary goal for the Vikings on Friday night as Leslie Frazier and his coaching staff are preparing to make some big decisions in the upcoming weeks and cut their roster down to 53 players.
The preseason is largely made up and largely remembered for it's "splash plays." A splash play is the type of play that could translate you from an unidentifiable number on a jersey to an actual name and player in the mind of the coaches. It's the kind of play that will get you remembered. Splash plays alone will rarely keep you on the squad, but add some splash plays to a solid resume of work and you've got a good chance at making the 53-man opening day roster.
Friday night, rookie linebacker Audie Cole splashed and boy did he ever splash in a big way!
(Before I tell you this story, it's probably my responsibility as a journalist to alert you that he wasn't playing against Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson and the Buffalo Bills first team offense.)
Cole, the Vikings 7th round (210th overall) selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, entered the game Friday night just another rookie trying to make a name for himself. Buried on the depth chart behind Jasper Brinkley and Tyrone McKenzie, Audie was simply looking to log some NFL game time and put some plays on film. What happened Friday night at Mall of America Field will be something that the rookie for NC State will never forget.
After a Blair Walsh 30-yarder made the score Vikings 22, Bills 14, former Minnesota Vikings Tyler Thigpen (currently listed as backup QB on the Bills depth chart), took to the field looking to move the ball on the Vikings third and fourth team defenders.
With three receivers wide and running back Johnny White to his right side, Thigpen took a second down snap and dropped back into the pocket. Looking to hit an out-route to wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, Thigpen chucked the ball to his left only to see Vikings MLB Audie Cole leap into the air, snatch the ball out of the sky and then proceed to zig and zag across the near side of the field to return the interception for a touchdown.
"It was a high ball and it felt like it was thrown right at me," Cole said after the game. "Everyone was saying that I should have ran straight in, but I didn't know. I don't touch the ball usually so I just tried to make some moves out there!"
Like most rookies do, Cole doubles as a special teams gunner on kick returns so the celebration of his first NFL touchdown was cut short as he joined Blair Walsh back on the field.
Deciding to end Tyler Thigpen's night on that interception, the Bills sent a new quarterback out there, Brad Smith who was looking to splash himself. Unfortunately for Brad, the Bills didn't send a new play out with him.
With Smith under center, the Bills ran an eerily similar play and even targeted the same receiver in Naaman Roosevelt. And just like that, one more time, the rookie linebacker sniffed it out and jumped the route to make his second interception return for a touchdown in only :16 seconds of game time!
"You sit the night before and you think about doing stuff like that," Cole said in the locker room after the game. "I'm just trying to make the team and I hope that helps my cause."
Following the second touchdown, the Vikings sidelines erupted. Coaches were smiling as veteran players like Jerome Simpson and Jared Allen were tearing down the sidelines running to celebrate with Cole in the endzone.
"You could see all the jubilation from his teammates," head coach Leslie Frazier said during postgame. "Everybody on the team was with him in the endzone with him on that second one. It's pretty impressive...To come in there and get two touchdowns in one game, that's rare, especially during preseason."
"To see Audie do what he did, that's a big deal," Frazier continued. "He seems to be one of those guys who may be someone who has a knack for the big play."
With two pick-sixes on two passes, Audie Cole cemented himself in the Minnesota Vikings record books as the only player in team history to have two back-to-back interceptions returned for touchdowns. He is also the first defensive player to score 12 points in a preseason game for the Vikings.
When asked how many interceptions returned for a touchdown he had in his entire football career prior to Friday night, Cole thought about it briefly and said, "Uh, counting today? Two!"
Summarizing his big night, Audie said, "that's what you dream about and that's what you hope happens. You want to be making plays and you want the ball in your hands. I'm just fortunate that the ball came my way and I was lucky to be in the right spot."
In his first snap of professional football, Cole sacked San Francisco QB Josh Johnson. So far this preseason Audie has three tackles, a sack, two interceptions and two touchdowns. That's a pretty memorable stat line for a rookie selected in the 7th round.
Audie Cole has splashed.If he can remain consistent throughout the preseason he'll have a great chance at making a Vikings team struggling to find depth at linebacker. Afterall, it's not every day that third string middle linebacker trends on Twitter! Unfortunately I don't think that either Leslie Frazier or Rick Spielman are on Twitter.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Vikings' updates and breaking Vikings' news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjMansourKFAN
*Photo - AP/Photo: Genevieve Ross